Skander Ben Attia (Head of Engineering) and Romuald Rat (Head of Technological Innovations), France Télévisions

After many unsuccessful applications to host, the Summer Olympic Games were finally awarded to Paris for the 2024 edition. For the local broadcaster, it is customary to demonstrate the newest technologies and take major steps on innovation across multiple domains.

While Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) is the permanent host broadcaster for the Games, as the French national public service media (PSM) company and national rights-holder we have both an obligation and a strong desire to leverage our proximity and our existing resources to maximize the innovation gains.

End-to-end innovation

Covering the journey of the Olympic flame offers a golden opportunity for innovation. For our coverage of the torch relay, every aspect of the broadcast value chain, from contribution and production to distribution, is seeing the deployment of new or improved technology.

The flame is being carried to all corners of France, including overseas territories. Our aim is to cover this 1,600+ km journey live using the latest remote production technology. Taking the same approach as is used for the Tour de France, for example, was not an option in this case. The budget for covering the torch relay is much smaller. France Télévisions also wanted also to implement a more sustainable workflow, as the company is committed to the reduction of CO2 emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Two key projects for France TV in the past year have been cloud production and connectivity. The expected benefits include being able to produce with more flexibility and being able to reactively adapt equipment to the needs of the production, unconstrained by facilities. We also want to produce with hyper-mobility, to be able to go everywhere, closer to our audience and closer to events, as quickly as possible. The overarching goals are to be able to produce more content with, at most, the same budget and to give editorial teams the opportunity to cover events we have not been able to cover before. The torch relay is an ideal opportunity to achieve these goals.

An initial test took place last summer, a year ahead of the Olympic Games, with a three-hour live event produced by our news channel France Info. It included many of the elements that would be key to covering the torch relay, with the event originating on a barge moving down the Seine river in Paris. The key to producing this preview event at an affordable cost lay in adopting a cloud-based approach and leveraging 4G/5G networks along with satellite broadband connectivity via Starlink. And this same approach is now adopted for the journey of the Olympic Flame to produce 65 days of live shows.

Flame in the cloud

We are using a 100% cloud-based production solution that handles everything from multi-camera switching, sound mixing and intercom with camera operators in the field, to graphics, live commentary, channel programming and distribution. We have an innovation partnership with TVU Networks to set up the solutions and develop specifications. Partnerships like this are the key for PSM to develop new set-ups and transform our workflow. Each camera is connected to a TVU One device or, for the crew using smartphones, via the TVU Anywhere application. This provides automatic synchronization of all cameras and the capacity to add more cameras whenever we want.

The production for the torch relay is managed from France TV headquarters in Paris, with all feeds available and production’s software in the cloud

The entire production is managed from France TV headquarters. Directors, technicians and journalists providing commentary use computers with large screens to interact with the dedicated TVU cloud software. We asked TVU Networks to develop integration of USB control, which allow technicians and directors to interact with equipment they are used to. This is a key point to help
people to adapt to those new workflows and devices.

Private 5G in mobility

A car following the torch is equipped with a 5G antenna that creates a dome around the torch bearer, moving with them. This mobile private 5G network is connected to the internet through a Starlink antenna. Everything can be done with very low latency, down to about 50 milliseconds. This solution, provided by Obvios and in conjunction with TDF, opens up many opportunities for future sports and news productions.

All of this allows us to cover at least eight hours live every day, using a combination of traditional cameras equipped with 4G/5G devices and an iPhone and drones. Not only does it provide wonderful footage for our dedicated Paris 2024 channel on, but it is providing valuable experience that will be applicable in future.

ST 2110 acceleration

Another excellent example of where Olympics coverage is catalysing technology advances is in our adoption of live IP-based production using SMPTE ST 2110. While other EBU Members have implemented ST 2110 when moving into new facilities, that is not an option for France TV, so our migration was always going to be a long-term project. However, with the Games we have an opportunity to accelerate the project and gain valuable experience.

We are creating a non-blocking ST 2110 network based on 400 Gb/s (30 Tb/s of bandwidth!). We aim to align with the full suite of specifications from SMPTE. For example, for the Olympics we are planning to implement the newly released standard, ST 2110-41, that enables carriage of metadata for Next Generation Audio (AC-4).

We have built a master control room (MCR) for UHD directly at France TV’s headquarters in Paris. Since we are close to the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) for the Games, we can use our own facilities to run our production. ST 2110 feeds – 53 of them in total – will be sent from the IBC to our MCR, coming over a pair of redundant 700 Gb/s links.

We will also make use of our two new OB trucks, both of which are hybrid SDI / ST 2110. The main UHD production will be done in UM1, the truck located at our HQ, while UM2 will be used to cover athletics events at the Stade de France.

One of France TV's new OB trucks

All this experience will set us on a strong footing to continue our migration to ST 2110 in the coming years. This is an important step to future-proof France TV, providing the flexibility and efficiency required by a modern media organization.

UHD for the masses

France TV has been using the annual Roland Garros tennis tournament to test different innovations over the past decade. The first UHD coverage was in 2013, with various Next Generation Audio formats tested over the years that followed. High dynamic range (HDR) was first tested in 2019 and 2021/22 saw the first use of ST 2110 for both the UHD MCR and for playout.

All those experiments and tests will pay dividends this summer as we deliver the Paris Olympics in 4K UHD with high dynamic range (HDR10), 10-bit colour depth, wide colour gamut (based on BT.2020), higher frame rates (50 fps progressive) and Next Generation Audio (AC-4).

The launch, earlier this year, of UHD services for the main France 2 channel over the digital terrestrial television (DTT) network in France is another great example of an area where audiences will see the benefit of a leap forward inspired by the Games.

The new UHD DVB-T2 multiplex began operating in January 2024, with coverage of 70% of the French population anticipated by June. Initially, UHD programming was provided only on France 2 but for the duration of the Olympic Games and Paralympics, France 3 will also be available in UHD. (See tech-i 58.)

A role for AI

Of course, it is impossible to talk about technological innovation without speaking about AI. France TV is engaged in important work on AI challenges. The Olympics are once again an accelerator for use cases. We have been using a speech-to-text solution for two years, to help archivists in their daily work. The Games provide an opportunity for a strong evolution.

Initially, the goal is to have a speech-to-text and translation infrastructure that is independent and specific to France TV. This work, undertaken by the IT teams, will not only protect our data but also significantly reduce the cost of using such a service. The service will allow the transcription of interviews sent by OBS, their translation into French, and their integration into the sports production system. Similarly, all the scripts of the events sent by OBS will be automatically translated into French, understanding and respecting the specific terms of each event.

Almost 5,000 files will be processed each day. These translations will also be integrated into the sports production and archiving system. This work opens up many other use cases around speech-to-text that will be deployed in the coming months for sports, news, and France TV’s channels.

Yet another step forward sparked by the Paris Olympics.


This article first appeared in issue 60 of EBU tech-i magazine.

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